Assessment Planning as Peer Review

Posted July 7, 2014 by adamcasler
Categories: Assessment, Student Affairs

When I first started my professional career, I never thought that assessment would end up playing such a major role.  I was never in the strong anti-assessment or pro-assessment communities.  I appreciated the importance of making sure the programs that I was leading (RA Training, Selection, RA Programming, etc.) all ensured that student learning was part of the process and that we were able to get feedback to improve these endeavors annually, but I wasn’t as concerned with how my non-Res. Life peers were conducting their assessment.

All of that changed in spring of 2011 when I was asked to sit on our newly created Student Affairs Assessment Committee.  Our VP charged the Associate Dean of Students with creating, revising, or updating all SA departmental mission statements and student learning outcomes.  This was a daunting task as each department was at a different stage with regards to their SLOs and mission statements.

Over the course of a year, we worked with each department and developed new mission statements and SLOs for each SA department.  Many departments retained aspects of their previous missions and SLOs, but these changes streamlined the division and aligned with revised SLOs for the Division of Student Affairs as a whole, as created by our VPSA.

With that done, the next two years were spent working with directors on finding ways to assess their ongoing programs and services both in terms of student learning as well as general satisfaction.  Again, this was a struggle, as some departments were resistant to assessment as a slightly nebulous term.  This phase of our project saw a divide in the departments that sought out the Student Affairs Assessment Committee and those that continued doing their own assessment projects and data collection.  With everyone gathering data that was deemed useful, we chose to not try and mandate any particular approach for assessment, and merely offered our assistance if any department needed help developing an appropriate measurement tool for a particular program or initiative. 

As we head into the fourth full year of the existence of the Student Affairs Assessment Committee, I’m excited for the changes that are coming.  With the support of our VPSA, it is our plan to have the Student Affairs Assessment Committee serve as a form of peer review for the assessment tools for each department, to ensure consistency and to act as a sounding board to offer ideas/input/suggestions to the department regarding their assessment plans.  With membership consisting of SA professionals from the Dean of Students Office, VPSA Office, Counseling Center, and Residential Life on the committee, almost all of whom hold terminal degrees in their field of expertise, I am hopeful that this will give each department the opportunity to gain feedback from a colleague not in their specialized field to help them refine and enhance their assessment measures so that they are able to be understood by students and are reliable tools that can be used to demonstrate both student learning and more general satisfaction.

With that said, I’m curious if anyone is using a peer review approach to assessment initiatives, and if so, what do yours look like!?  Feel free to comment below or tweet me @adamcasler 

Thanks for reading!


Reflections on August in Student Affairs and the “August Challenge”

Posted September 4, 2013 by adamcasler
Categories: Uncategorized

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a post that has made it live.  There were a few I thought about posting, but on second thought realized that I probably shouldn’t post.  It was a good “thought-check” process for me to ensure that I was 100% OK with what I post on this blog. 

This post started out in July when I began to think about the craziness that is August in Student Affairs.  Those of us in the field fully understand what I mean when I use the phrase “Organized(ish) Chaos” as our campuses begin to come alive with RAs, Orientation Staff, Athletes, and other early arrival groups, training programs, orientation, and then move-in, only to be followed by a “hit the ground running” mentality as we resume normal operations and services. 

Disclaimer: I have never been one who hides my emotions well.  People know when I’m in a good mood and when I’m in a bad mood.  For the most part, I’m OK with this, as I view it as being real.  No one can (and no one SHOULD) be forced to completely hide their emotions and feelings.  With that said, there are certainly times, places, and ways to properly express emotions.  For me, my colleagues, friends, and students know that when I stop talking or “seem quiet” that it means chances are more than good that something is bothering me and/or I’m having an “off day.”  I fully own this and try to put the disclaimer out there so people are aware of this.  To some it might be off-putting, but I feel being honest is a good thing, even when it comes to saying “Today’s not a good day for me.” 

Starting in July, I began to get nervous about August.  It’s a busy time, and I have some perfectionist tendencies that exhibit themselves as stress when things don’t go according to plan in August, as this is my busiest time of year in my role at Siena.  I decided that I was going to make an “August Challenge” in which I challenged myself not to freak-out, complain, or become overtly negative if/when things didn’t go according to plan.  My reasons for this were multiple and briefly outlined below:

  • The work needs to be done regardless of things going according to plan – Why complain?  What purpose does it serve to advance the plan/project?  Letting go of my need for a flawless August was a huge first step for me.  I learned to roll with the punches and take changes as they came.  Sure, some were not at all fun, but I tried to maintain an even keel, especially in front of my colleagues and students (even though I know some of my colleagues knew I was irked on the inside, I tried not to let it show or negatively impact our attitudes).
  • Having (more) faith in my colleagues – I work with amazing people.  I’ve always had a tendency to do tasks myself, in turn adding a layer of stress over projects that I knew my colleagues could handle, but was afraid to let go of.  This year, I let go of several key pieces of RA training, and not only did I feel better, but my colleagues developed new and original ideas for several initiatives, including our service trips, behind closed doors, Mentor RA training, and Round Robin presentations.  Everyone wins, as I was able to delegate a few things and give my colleagues new experiences and they were able to demonstrate a level of creativity and innovation that impressed not only me, but our RAs and other staff as well.
  • Keeping a Positive Attitude – Although at times hard to do with the stress of August, it is amazing how much better I felt by maintaining the mantra “Today is going to be a good day” and “We’ve got this” to get me through.  Did I, at times, lose this attitude?  Yes, but it was controlled and far less frequent than in the past.  I hate “inspirational” quotes, but the old quote that “Attitude is contagious” appears to be true, as my colleagues and staff seemed much more energized and less negative than previous years. 

And finally, the most important thing that I recognized is that August has a tendency to become a game of one-upmanship for Student Affairs Professionals.  Some of my friends in the field, including me in previous years, use Social Media to vent, which is fine when done appropriately.  August has a tendency to induce a different phenomena where we all try to one-up each other with stories of craziness, debauchery, and horror stories that we have encountered.  Part of this includes talking about how “busy” we are.  This manifests itself as the innocuous tweet such as “Going to bed after a 14 hour day” or the more blatant “Damn, it’s only August 15th? #15daysstraightwork.”   I’m baffled as to why this happens, mainly because in student affairs, we are ALL busy in August, and should be supporting each other, rather than trying to one-up each other with stories of how “busy” we are.

 There is an article making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter in the Harvard Business Review titled “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are” and I recommend everyone take a look at it.  I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but will say that it has some great points for all of us to consider as we head into another academic year!

 As always, comments and/or discussion are encouraged on the blog or through Twitter @adamcasler .  Thanks for reading!

A Time to Fire?

Posted February 26, 2013 by adamcasler
Categories: Residence Life & Housing, Student Affairs

I’ve been trying to find a way to write this post for almost a year. I’ve gone through several drafts and each time I keep coming back to the basic underlying question: “Is this necessary?” Each time, I’ve said yes, but have struggled with trying to put this diplomatically. I decided that their really isn’t a nice way to put this, so I’m just going to toss it out there: I believe that there is a time when terminating someone’s employment can be good for them, the department, and perhaps even the larger organization.

I don’t want to seem mean or callous in this post. Terminating someone is never a decision to be made lightly. However, I think there have been times in my career when I’ve seen employees, in particular RAs, become complacent (at best) in their work and in other cases become a hindrance to creating the type of community that we strive to create at my institution. So, what can and should be done about this?

Before you consider terminating someone, have you done or considered the following:
1.) Addressing poor performance directly with the employee in regular supervisory meetings and periodic evaluations. This step is critical as in many cases a struggling employee may simply need to be called out on his or her behavior and work with the supervisor to develop a plan of action for improvement. Sometimes a supervisor reaching out and asking “Is everything ok?” can make a world of difference.

2.) Examine the frequency and severity of poor performance issues. If this was a one-time mistake or even a second or third time issue on a minor part of the persons job responsibilities, it is possible that “mistakes happen” and can be learned from without further hurting the department.

3.) Keeping YOUR supervisor in the loop regarding the performance issues of the employee in question. It is important to thoroughly document all performance based feedback given to an employee and to share it with your supervisor in a timely matter so they are not caught off guard if termination needs to occur.

4.) Examine who else is being impacted by the employees poor performance. Is it you as supervisor? The employees colleagues? The employees direct reports? The residents (if student employee related)? If any or all of these groups have been hindered from completing their tasks as fellow employees, consideration of discipline or termination may be warranted.

If you’ve done all of these things and there are still problems with an employee that are unresolved, termination may become your only viable solution to a problem.

There are some in our field who will say that “We can promote growth in an employee by taking a more direct approach in our supervision” or other similar reasons. This COULD be true. However, I believe that there does come a point where a supervisor needs to ask “Am I spending more time dealing with this employees performance deficiencies than I should be?” A question that only you as a supervisor can answer

Termination can in and of itself be a learning experience. It might take years for someone to realize it but it can and does happen. Sometimes it’s as simple as the employee didn’t agree with or support the departmental mission or policies. Sometimes it’s an issue of being unable to perform the duties assigned to the position. There are more, I’m sure.

About a year ago, when I started to write this post I reviewed an email from a student employee that I had terminated from a position on campus almost five years previously. The email was short, but included a brief segment that set me on the path to writing this post. This person said “I was so angry at you after you fired me that I didn’t talk to you for the rest of my time at (inst. name removed). I couldn’t believe that you had taken away my job. But then, I realized that after I no longer worked in the department, I was really able to enjoy the rest of my time at (inst. name removed). It made me realize that the RA role wasn’t right for me. I thought it was and was mad when I lost it but I actually became happy again after I got my life as a regular student back.”

Not everyone has this reaction after being terminated, even five years later. However, I hold firm that in some cases, termination can be a learning experience for some people to help them clarify what they want out of their work environment and helps them to learn about their own areas for growth and development. This process has also taught me how to think critically about employment issues and how to best identity a solution to deficiencies that will best support the employee, myself, the department and the institution.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome! I would love to hear about your struggles and triumphs in this area.

Meeting Expectations

Posted December 3, 2012 by adamcasler
Categories: Residence Life & Housing, Student Affairs

It’s that wonderful time of year in my job……evaluations!  I actually really enjoy sitting down to review what residents have written about my RAs and my own performance.  That probably makes me a little crazy, but I’ve always felt that almost any feedback is good feedback.

As much as I love evaluations, there is an aspect that I have grown to dread.  Each year, we have several student staff members who view their performance rating of “Meets Expectations” as indicative of negative performance in their job.

I’ve always found an evaluation to be a useful tool as it has helped me to examine the minutiae of my job responsibilities that I often times overlook or take as a given.  We require our RAs to complete a self-evaluation of their own performance as well and then submit it their RD to in turn complete their formal evaluation.  The evaluation has several categories that require RAs to rate their performance on a 4-tier scale: “Exceeds Expectations”, “Meets Expectations”, “Needs Improvement”, and “Unable to Judge.”  Naturally, the “Unable to Judge” option isn’t used by RAs about their own performance very often, which leaves a 3-tier scale.  Over the past couple of years, I have seen more and more self-evaluations with RAs rating their performance as “Exceeds Expectations” and then not providing any concrete examples in the written portion of the evaluation to justify such a rating (something we ask them to do).  As their supervisor, I fully admit I don’t always know everything my RAs are doing, however, the written portion is their opportunity to show me how they have gone above and beyond the job requirements.  When they don’t do this, and I have no other information about the issue, most likely they will get a “Meets Expectations” for that response in my evaluation.

My concern is that over the past five years I have had several RAs react VERY negatively to receiving a “Meets Expectations” as their overall performance rating.  We coach our RAs on the evaluation process before distributing the evaluation documents in an attempt to outline the process.  In this meeting, I have always made it clear (in my mind) that “Most RAs are going to receive a “Meets Expectations” in all areas of their job performance.  This is a GOOD thing, as it means you are doing the job that you were hired to do.”  My overview of the eval process continues for a while longer explaining that the written portions of the evaluation are the prime time to qualify why an RA gave themselves a “Needs Improvement” or an “Exceeds Expectations.”

My question is this: has anyone else observed something similar to “Meets Expectations” being viewed as a negative appraisal of performance?  In my mind, this is an affirmation that you are doing the job, and there have been no issues that have risen to the level of questioning one’s job performance.  While ratings of “Exceeds Expectations” are rare for me, I feel those should be reserved for the truly exceptional performance of an RA in a given category (programming, community building, helping skills/role modeling, behavior management, administrative tasks, etc).

Do others experience similar sentiments from your students?  If so, any creative ideas on how to better educate them about how to critically review their own performance?

Chic-Fil-A, Free Speech, and Economic Power

Posted July 29, 2012 by adamcasler
Categories: Personal

I’ve avoided weighing in on the recent Chic-Fil-A drama, as I didn’t think it was anything that would continue to permeate the news and social media.  I was wrong.  Even today, almost two weeks after Chic-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s remarks in which he states “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit” as a response to questions regarding monetary donations to groups that oppose gay marriage initiatives, people are still reacting to this statement.

I’ll be the first to state that I think Mr. Cathy’s statements are incorrect and demonstrate a narrow understanding of the term family.   LGBT rights issues, in my opinion, are civil, even human, rights that should not be the subject of laws limiting the rights of LGBT people.  With that said, Mr. Cathy is entitled to his opinion about gay marriage, no matter how misguided people or groups might find it.  I am a proud member and monetary contributor to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country.  I WANT HRC to speak out in support of LGBT rights.  That’s what I give them my money to do.  I want them to increase community outreach efforts, support anti-bullying programs, educational programs, and provide a vital resource for LGBT people on a variety of health and personal issues.  There is no difference between my contributing money to HRC and Mr. Cathy’s contributing money to anti-LGBT groups, aside from the size of our contributions.

My question is: was Mr. Cathy’s statement really a shock as some people seem to be claiming with their criticisms?  Chic-Fil-A has always prided itself on being a Christian-focused, family-owned business.  The fact that the restaurants are closed on Sundays clearly should speak volumes about what the ownership feels regarding the importance of traditionalist Christian religion, and thus, shouldn’t be a far stretch to infer what their views about gay marriage would be.

Some politicians and other organizations have put out statements condemning Mr. Cathy’s position and articulating their own.  Again, that’s their right, and I am glad they are doing this and showing their support for LGBT rights.  Where my problem comes in is in how some people are packaging this issue.  Reports that “Chic-Fil-A discriminates against LGBT people” or similar headlines is not true.  The OWNER of Chic-Fil-A is supporting groups that are trying to enact anti-LGBT initiatives.  The restaurant itself is not discriminating.  From the consumer end of things (as I have no idea about their employment practices), I would ask what the possible benefit of denying service to an LGBT customer would be.  For one, this isn’t an aspect of our identities that is immediately noticed upon meeting people.  In addition, any smart businessman isn’t going to deny service, as denying service equals a loss in profits, completely counterintuitive to a business model.

On a similar vein, concerns were raised by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who sent a letter to Mr. Cathy urging him to back out of his plans to open a Chic-Fil-A in Boston.  In an economic recession, and when any job is in high demand, turning away a business is not a smart play, in my opinion, especially when the BUSINESS has done nothing wrong.  Using political power to attempt to dissuade/discourage a business simply because you don’t agree with their policies is not acting in the greater interest of the economy, and sets up a dangerous precedent regarding appropriate use of power.

While you might disagree (as I do vehemently) with his opinions, the best way to make your voice heard is to speak out to family, friends, and others, contribute to groups that support causes you believe in, and don’t contribute to groups that support causes you don’t support.  As consumers in a market economy, we have power.  If you don’t want your money going to causes you don’t support, buy from somewhere else.   There’s plenty of fast food establishments in America offering the same types of food at similar prices as Chic-Fil-A.

24 Things I’ve Learned in my 20s

Posted July 3, 2012 by adamcasler
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m not (quite) out of my 20s yet, but when I saw this list via Ryan O’Connell at Thought Catalog I felt I had to repost.  The list originally had 25 items, and I’ve omitted one as it didn’t apply to me at all, and wasn’t something I believe.  However, the other 24 items on this list are incredibly true.  Some are funny, some are serious, and I think all provide a set of reminders about life and the need to not only look back and reflect, but look forward and not be too caught up in the moment.

Numbers 3, 11, 14, 15, 20, and 23 are expecially poignant for me!

What about you?  What on this list strikes you (either as right or wrong).

  1. You can’t date a jerk and expect to turn them into a good person. Jerks are fully committed to being unpleasant. Those brief moments of tenderness they give you are designed to trip you up and give you false hope. It’s best to stay away altogether.
  2. The rumors are true: your metabolism does slow down as you get older! That means if you’re still eating whatever you want, there’s a good chance you’ll start to gain an awkward amount of weight. It won’t be too drastic but your clothes will start to hang differently on your body and you’ll feel an overall feeling of unattractiveness. Start to be conscious of what you eat and strive to live a healthier lifestyle if you want to get your teen body back. (Let’s be real though, that might not ever come back.)
  3. You’re going to lose touch with a lot of your friends. With some people, it will be expected but with others it will feel like a punch to the stomach. No friendship is truly safe in your twenties. You’re undergoing so many personal and professional changes that there’s bound to be some casualties along the way. Don’t worry though. You’ll end up with the ones that matter. If someone’s no longer in your life, it’s for a reason.
  4. You’ll be jealous of everyone who’s more successful than you. That’s okay. Just transfer that jealousy into something productive, like working really hard so you can one day eclipse them and make them feel jealous of YOU.
  5. You’ll question every decision you make and never feel completely certain that you made the right choice. It’s pointless to wonder though. You’re here now so you might as well make it be the right decision.
  6. You’re going to give your heart to a few people who don’t deserve it. Then, one day you’ll come to your senses and ask them to give it back.
  7. You’ll see your parents get older. You’ll come home during Christmas break and see new lines developing on their faces. One day it’ll just hit you that your parents are old and going to die. There’s nothing you can do about it, besides treat them with kindness and visit as much as your budget permits.
  8. You’ll have a boss who makes you feel like you’re nothing. It doesn’t have to be in a Devil Wears Prada way. The cruelty can be much more subtle. Don’t let them get to you though. They have no idea who the hell you really are and you’re probably going to have their job someday so…
  9. You’re going to puke in public. It’s fine. No one cares. Just puke.
  10. You’ll know how to make twenty dollars last an entire week because you spent almost all of your paycheck on groceries at Whole Foods and drunk cab rides. This lesson in frugality will serve you well.
  11. You’re going to betray your convictions. You’re going to feel shame. You’re going to continue to put yourself in situations that aren’t good for you. And then, slowly but surely, it will become less frequent. It might not ever go away completely but it won’t be as bad. In the meantime, stop shame spiraling about it. It gets you nowhere.
  12. Loving yourself is hard. Hating yourself is harder.
  13. You’re going to hook up with someone who you would never touch in the daylight sober. Just don’t freak out too much about it. Consider it to be your good deed for the day.
  14. You’re going to have people in your life who are toxic. They may say that they love you, they may say that they have your back, but they don’t. Get rid of them.
  15. You’ll have moments with someone that are so intense, it’ll feel like you’ve been electrocuted back to life. You’ll hold on to these moments for a long time. They’ll give you hope when you’re going through the motions.
  16. You’ll always care about your first love. That doesn’t make you crazy, it just makes you human. When relationships end, it’s not so cut and dry. You carry everyone you’ve ever loved into every relationship thereafter.
  17. You’ll enter your twenties as a fashion disaster and (hopefully) leave them looking fantastic. If you don’t know how to put yourself together by then, I really don’t know what to tell you.
  18. You’ll realize that the Internet can be a cruel son of a bitch but, you know,
  19. So much of what you think matters doesn’t actually matter at all. It’s kind of rude. Like, thanks for making me believe in things that are ultimately so inconsequential, you jerk.
  20.  You’ll treat someone terribly. Whether it to be a lover or your friend, there’ll be someone whose feelings you take for granted. We focus too much on whether or not someone is hurting us. The reality is that we might actually be the one who’s hurting someone.
  21. Doing “grown-up things” doesn’t make you a grown up. Shopping for housewares, buying a plant, embracing domesticity — these things don’t create maturity. If you’re still a baby who hasn’t figured things out, you’ll remain a baby, no matter how many times you pay your rent on time.
  22. Don’t force yourself into loving anyone. If it’s not working in the beginning, it’s probably not going to work ever.
  23. You are so lucky to have everything that you have. Stop crying about an unreturned text message and get some perspective.
  24. Don’t go too long without having sex. Ever.


The Value of Vacation & Time to Recharge

Posted June 27, 2012 by adamcasler
Categories: Personal, Residence Life & Housing, Student Affairs

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s in part because there’s not a whole heck of a lot new.  That’s both a blessing and a curse in some respects.  However, recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a 12-day road trip with one of my closest friends.  This was to be my first vacation in the 4 years I’ve been at Siena, and my friend Jen’s first true vacation in at least that long.  In the past, the occasional long weekend was about as exciting as things got, which was usually enough to get away to Boston, New York, or other locations to relax and get away from Albany.

As the departure date grew close, I was nervous about leaving work for such a long period of time.  I’d be away from the office for eight days.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of falling behind, as in truth, this summer has given me considerable amounts of time to be ahead of my timeline for almost every project.  It wasn’t because I was worried about things going to hell in a handcart, as I’m fortunate to work in a great office with 5 (soon to be 6 again) RDs who truly are rockstars.  It wasn’t even the prospect of spending 12 days in a car with someone (all of our friends thought we were crazy and we’d come back hating each other).  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, although we did get a little crazy at points.

It was the simple question “What does one DO on vacation?” that had me perplexed.  I’ve always been someone who doesn’t view my job as “work.”  Simply put, I love doing what I do, and I just happen to be lucky enough to be compensated for it.  The craziness associated with the hours of a live-in staff member has never really bothered me.  In fact, I’m bizarre in that I actually ENJOY it.  Needless to say, the prospect of a vacation and not quite knowing what to do was making me nervous.

As our vacation unfolded and with stops in Charlotte, NC; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Gambier, OH; Madison, WI; and Milwaukee, WI, I began to learn the importance of this nebulous term “vacation.”  Being able to have no set agenda and make plan to do things completely based on my own preferences was liberating.  Whether going to the beach and reading a book (SC), touring the Newseum (DC), or taking a bike ride around Lake Mendota (WI), I had the ability to do things that I enjoy but without the attachment of “work” as a label.

So, why write about this?  I wonder what I would have done had I taken real vacations earlier in my career.  Granted, not every trip needs to be an adventure like the one I just returned from, but even taking a week and going to one place is enough to get away and recharge.  Would my approach to my work have been any different in those early years?  In some respects, I would say yes, especially where it relates to encouraging others to take time for themselves.  I’ve never pushed people to take time off, as there is never a shortage of work to be done on a college/university campus, however, coming back to work after a week off had me refocused, reenergized, and ready to dive into my remaining summer projects.

To everyone, regardless of position, take a vacation!  Take a “staycation.”  Do something to get you out of the office and time to recharge.
What have YOU done for time to recharge?  Share it with me in the comments or via twitter @adamcasler